MARQUETTE - Filmmaker Suzanne Jurva wanted to tell a story about the Upper Peninsula.
"I graduated from Michigan Tech and have strong ties to the community and my family is from the area," Jurva said in an email. "I was looking for a way to tell a story about the U.P. and the Keweenaw, in an artful way and not in the usual fashion, when I heard about creation of the original opera, 'Rockland,' and Mary Wright's Storyline Project.
"Although I knew it was going to be complicated to tell a story about so many different parts, I thought why not?"
In this scene from the “Rockland”?opera, miners who were tossed in a temporary jail after a shooting, are visited by wives and sweethearts who were allowed to bring them food and Pastor Rantanen who worked succesfully to have them released..
Suzanne Jurva, who earned a bachelor’s degree in scientific and technical communications from Michigan Tech University, has been involved in all forms of storytelling, from Tom Hanks' large screen IMAX film “Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon” to producing and developing for the smallest media, the mobile phone, as co-founder of Starcut, content media aggregator for Nokia Mobile Phones. In between the two extremes of media and technology, Jurva worked as a feature film development executive at DreamWorks-SKG creating and heading the research department working on: “Saving Private Ryan,” “Amistad,” “Minority Report,” “AI,” “The Lost World,” “Gladiator,” “Prince of Egypt,” “The Peacemaker,” “Deep Impact,” “Men in Black” and “The Lookout.” Jurva's award-winning work has been seen on PBS, NBC News, Fox, MTV, BBC, and her films have been selected as part of the Ojai International Film Festival, Houston International Film Festival, Northern Lights Film Festival, ReelHeARTS Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, among others. She was one of 50 civilians chosen from leadership positions throughout the U.S. to be a member of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference 61. She attended Air War College and was elected as an Outstanding Young Alumni and inducted into the Academy of Arts and Sciences at Michigan Technological University.
Marquette area residents will be able to see her project - the documentary "Yoopera!" - at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Jamrich Hall 102 on the campus of Northern Michigan University. This one-hour film depicts the making of the opera "Rockland" and its promotion through The Story Line Project.
"Rockland" was written by Finnish composer Jukka Linkola and performed to standing-room-only audiences in July 2011 at the Rozsa Theater at Michigan Tech University in Houghton. It was also performed in Nivala, Finland, in June 2011.
The Story Line Project was led by community artist Mary Wright, who has created a number of projects through the years, including chairs painted for Finn Fest in Marquette. The Story Line Project involved thousands of U.P. school children and adults depicting their ancestors who worked to create a new life for themselves and their families in the United States.
These photos and stories were then printed on panels which hung throughout the peninsula, but especially in and around the Rozsa Theater at the time of the opera. Many children - and adults - who created panels are seen in the documentary.
There were some challenges, of course, in the making of the documentary.
"Like all projects based in the arts, the first challenge is raising money and, then, documenting a story over a many year process." Jurva said. "I had the additional challenge of not living in the area. I lean on a great quote that Branko Lustig said to me during the pre-production of 'Gladiator': 'We don't say challenges or problems ever, we say these are our opportunities!'
"So, the lack of funding in the beginning and distance gave me the opportunity to think outside the box and work with Michigan Tech, Erin Smith and the wonderful students. We were also fortunate to receive funding from the Michigan Humanities Council, Finlandia Foundation, and John and Pauline Kiltinen (of Marquette)."
Another grant came from the Pine Mountain Music Festival.
Jurva will be at Friday's Marquette premiere to introduce the documentary and to answer questions from the audience. Is she pleased with "Yoopera"?
"We are going to get there," Jurva said. "Filmmaking is a process and the process requires lots of negative space, i.e. sometimes you need to step away from a film and revisit it to make changes for the better. You have to screen the film and get reactions from many audiences to move it forward.
"We are moving it forward."
The public is invited to attend "Yoopera!" and there is no charge for the event. This program is being planned jointly by the local League of Finnish American Societies U.P. Chapter and the Finlandia Foundation National, whose board of directors will be meeting in Marquette the weekend of Oct. 11-12.
The local league is an affiliate member of the Finlandia Foundation. For more information, call 228-8035.
To learn more about the film, visit www.yooperamovie.com.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org